Conversation Hearts by John Crowley
Published by Subterranean Press (US): September 30, 2008
Reviewed by Joey O'Donnell/Erfael
Conversation Hearts is the new novella by John Crowley, author of Little, Big and the AEgypt cycle. In Conversation Hearts Crowley takes a very slim volume and manages to use every word of it to the fullest effect in order to say a great many things.
There are touching family moments. There is commentary on what it is to be different and whether that difference is worth noting. There are musings on the publishing industry and on the relationship between a writer and reader. There's even a bit of suspense. And it's all packaged in a 65-page novella.
Given that length, there's not a great deal of time spent ruminating within the text over the issues. Rather, Crowley presents an idea here or there in such a way that asks the reader to spend a little time on his or her own thinking it over. The concepts are almost presented in what could be considered the literary equivalent of conversation hearts themselves -- small snippets which say something simple and can be taken as such, though depending on context can mean much more.
The basic structure of the book is that of a children's chapter story written by one of the main characters nested within a real-world story taking place on Valentine's Eve. It's through the interplay between the main storyline and the nested children's story that the issues Crowley is exploring take on context and depth. The life trials that the main characters are facing are mirrored in the children's book in a way that brings them to light and examines them from a different perspective.
While not as beautiful as Little, Big or as difficult and weighty as the AEgypt cycle, Conversation Hearts brings to the table many of the things that make John Crowley's writing great, but in a small, quickly-read package.
The biggest negative I can mention here is the price tag. I have reservations about recommending a book that takes less than an hour to read but has a cover price of $20(US). Having only had a proof in hand, I can't speak to the beauty of the final product, but I would expect a very beautiful book-as-object out of Subterranean's initial run of the book.
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